It Managers Fix Faults 'By Guessing'

Posted by Peter Cochrane on April 4, 2006

ContractorUK.com Apr 4, 2006

Key decisions in IT departments are taken by inept managers who prefer to guess rather than find out facts behind the business and supporting infrastructure, a leading IT consultant has declared.

Peter Cochrane, the former head technologist of BT, was speaking at the launch of a Star Technology Report compiled by The Yankee Group, when he said working in IT was more akin to a "prison sentence," Techworld reported.

But the IT consultant yesterday insisted his comments related to the report’s survey, which found 30 per cent of technical managers spend no time building an IT strategy, because 70 per cent is devoted to general ‘fire-fighting.’

"IT and security departments in large corporations are going to go the same way as typing pools, and for the very same reason - they are not actually doing anything useful," Mr Cochrane said in an interview with Contractor UK.

"The UK has hit a bit of crisis point and is now at the crossroads. Corporate knowledge is dying and is being lost across the board. Mainly this is because nobody is focusing on business modelling.

"If IT departments are going to perform a more useful function, they really must get into knowledge management, and business modelling. This would ensure business goes a little bit further than the aftermath of using a knee jerk reaction to make strategic business decisions."

Camille Mendler, vice president of international telecoms at The Yankee Group, hinted that productivity in IT companies has sunk to a base low, in light of the survey’s findings.

"If a company has an average salary bill of £90,000 for IT staff, and its IT staff spends more than 30 per cent of its time on administration, then it’s spending more than £30,000 a year on routine tasks," she said.

Cochrane claims the "unintelligent" management style of today’s IT departments exerts a whirlpool effect that engulfs employees and non-permanent staff alike.

"How many of the IT specialists in corporations that are contractors have an IT support department? The answer is they don’t – they have to support themselves," he said.

The ubiquitous nature of computers is also playing part in eroding the relevance of the IT department, as its function becomes less apparent to end users and company staff.

"In the mobile phone marketplace, we saw the higher the percentage of ownership, the higher the pressure on people to buy a mobile phone," Cochrane said.

"I think we are seeing a similar thing in the IT world. What happens in today’s department is that end users often call IT support – IT aren’t there to run a service, they’re there to make sure they don’t get fired.

"They may therefore be not all that cooperative and end users might have to wait days before a fix. As a result of the pressure to get systems up and running and the expectation that people know about computers, the majority of day-to day IT problems are being fixed not by IT support, but by the end users themselves."

His comments come hot on the heels of Gartner’s predictions, that by 2010, six out of ten IT roles will be business-facing, and that IT headcount in mid-sized to large companies will shrink by 30 per cent.

As an IT consultant, Cochrane advises companies to tell their end users that they are the guardian of their own PC, to encourage greater responsibility.

"If you treat people like children, then they’ll behave like children. If you treat them like adults, you’ll get more out of them," he says.

But he points the finger of blame for inefficient IT departments at the manager and their manager, right through to top tier executives.

"People in corporations often make decisions on the basis of no evidence, frequently they are making guesses. The management is ineffective rather than stupid, in other words, management controlling IT departments are not doing it intelligently."

He added that all IT managers face the problem of staying abreast of technically competent recruits, after a comparatively long period acquiring theoretical and practical IT knowledge.

"Today more people can use a computer than can’t. Nowadays a few more managers can use a computer than can’t and over time it has taken, in some cases, decades for people to come up the learning curve to achieve that point.

"But now we see young industry hopefuls enter the workforce who have gone through the cusp of ‘no understanding’ to ‘good understanding’ in about five years. These individuals are arriving in the workplace far better equipped and knowledgeable than the workers in the IT and the security department."

Evidencing his claim with an anecdote, Cochrane revealed how the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of one large corporation recently fumbled a MS PowerPoint presentation to a New York audience of 200 budding technologists.

"Applicants arrived suited with business cards, mobile phones, PDAs and laptops. At the end, and after the messy presentation, none of the applicants chose to ask any questions. Expectantly, not one single employee was recruited. Why? Because these so-called newcomers to IT do not need the IT department manager telling them what model of mobile, PDA, laptop or type of software applications they should use. It’s now part of every youngsters’ kit – it has become their own personal set of technology," he said.